Monday, June 6, 2016

Brexit retreats to the immigration ‘safe ground’

With the vote on whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union less than three weeks away there has been a less than subtle change in the Brexit campaign, away from economic arguments and onto the emotive issues of refugees and immigration.

The move was inevitable. For weeks now business leaders, economists, academics and senior public servants have been all but unanimous in their warnings of the consequences that a United Kingdom would face outside Europe.

Everything from a loss of markets for the country’s exports, to falling investment, to the possible loss of millions of jobs currently linked with, and to a certain extent dependent on, membership.

These serious questions have largely been answered by slogans and statements so unsubstantiated by the facts as to deserve to be dismissed as voodoo economics.

A typical example is the latest comment by Brexit boss Boris Johnson that the UK would face a “triple whammy of woe” should it remain in the EU, with an extra £2.4 billion ($A4.7 billion) bill to pay for Europe’s “stagnation, unemployment and lack of growth”.        
As has often been the case during the campaign, these figures are plucked out of the air with no substantial backing. While EU growth remains modest it is at least heading in the right direction and certainly does not deserve Johnson’s self-serving, doom-laden forecasts.
Could Britain exist outside the EU — of course it could. Its security would be more difficult to police; its trade would suffer from being cut off from a market of 500 million people on its doorstep , and it would have much work to do arranging its own economic ties with nations such as the United States, Japan and Canada which it currently enjoys through EU membership.
Yes, the UK could survive, but is it really worth sacrificing these current advantages for nebulous claims about “loss of sovereignty” or “taking back our country”?
The economic message has been resonating so Brexit is retreating to what it sees as the safe ground of immigration.
But even that ‘safe ground’ is shaky, and here is one example: Brexit claims that that Australian and New Zealand nurses and doctors will be forced out of the National Health Service to make way for EU citizens. This ignores the fact that overseas candidates from anywhere must pass an English language examination known as the IELTS test, which rates them on a scale of one to nine, before they can work in the country’s health centres and hospitals.
Of course nurses and doctors must have a firm grasp of English. To allow anything else would be courting disaster. The test requires candidates to score a seven in the areas of speaking, listening, writing and understanding. Obviously people from English-speaking countries have an in-built advantage.
That is not to deny many EU citizens will also be fluent enough to pass the test, but figures clearly show they will never be present in sufficient numbers to displace staff from English-speaking Commonwealth countries.   

The flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa is a clear challenge, not just for the EU and Europe, but for the world. The UK can be far more effective working towards a comprehensive plan within Europe rather than hauling up its drawbridge and pretending it is someone else’s problem.   

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